By Emily Stifler
I opened the box of vegetables and pulled out more
than a week’s worth of hearty greens, peas, grapefruit,
lemons, sweet onions, bergamot and rosemary.
A pack of fresh eggs was tucked alongside the produce.
I was spending the summer in the high country
of Yosemite National Park, California, and if I’d not
subscribed to a CSA I may have contracted scurvy.
Instead, boxes of delicious seasonal fruits and veggies
were delivered all season.
The concept of community-supported agriculture
(CSA) was born in the 1960s, concurrently but
separately, in Europe and Japan. In response to food
safety issues and urbanization of agricultural land,
groups of consumers and farmers partnered to fund
ecologically and socially healthy agriculture. The idea
came to the U.S. in the mid ‘80s, and now there are
more than 4000 CSA’s across the country, and six in
the Bozeman area.
Gallatin Valley Botanical describes how a CSA
works: A farmer offers a certain number of “shares”
to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of
vegetables, but other farm products may be included.
Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership”
or a “subscription”) and in return receive a
box of seasonal produce each week throughout the
In this kind of farming operation, growers and consumers
share the risks and rewards of food production.
Because it is so local, it’s perhaps one of the most
environmentally conscious ways to eat.
Advantages for farmers:
• Spend time marketing the food early in the year,
before long work days begin
• Receive payment early in the season, helping
• Get to know the people who eat the food
Advantages for consumers:
• Eat fresh food, with flavor and vitamin benefits
• Experience new vegetables and new ways of
• Get to visit the farm
• Kids like food from “their” farm
• Develop a relationship with the farmer and learn
how food is grown
According to localharvest.org, “It’s a simple enough
idea, but its impact has been profound. Tens of
thousands of families have joined CSAs… They add
that what takes CSAs “beyond the usual commercial
transaction… is the notion of shared risk.”
Gallatin Valley Botanical owns up to this: “Each
year can bring new weather challenges [in Montana]:
Frosts come any month of the year, and it can snow,
rain, and hail as Mother Nature sees fit.” They are
growing a community around their farm, with these
shared benefits and risks inherent:
“By taking part in our CSA, you are sharing in our
seasons, in our disappointments, and in our bounty.
To help ensure that our season is bountiful, we have
three greenhouses and row cover for season extension,
use varieties that are well adapted for our short season,
variable climate, plant a wide variety of crops, and have
the experience to back it up.”
Each of their 18 weekly summer and 10 weekly winter
boxes has a newsletter with recipes, will generously
feed a family of four, and includes a complementary
selection of produce including salad greens, cooking
greens, an herb, an allium, root crops, and seasonal
vegetables. They also have a work share agreement that
offers members a discount for field work. Make sure
to sign up soon, as of April 29, three of the local farms
that provide CSAs are already sold out of shares.
If this concept of shared risk is not for you, there is
always the farmers’ market.